The Ecology of Quaker Meeting
Reviewed by Ruah Swennerfelt
By James W. Hood. Pendle Hill Pamphlets (number 449), 2018. 32 pages. $7/pamphlet.
James Hood, a member of Friendship Meeting in Greensboro, N.C., begins this pamphlet with a description of his regular walk along a path in a natural area close to the meeting. It’s a very inviting entrance into his keen observations of what is happening around him and how it is all part of a miracle of life. He is in awe of the intricate interrelationships of the flora and fauna that abound. One might begin to think this is a nature pamphlet, but then Hood surprises us with his observations in a meeting for worship.
I live in the woods of Vermont, surrounded by a deciduous forest, views of the Green Mountains, and with wildlife bursting out all around, spring, summer, winter, and fall. Over the 27 years that I’ve resided here, I’ve had the same opportunities as the author in intimately knowing the place where I live. It inspires my life, work, and worship. I feel connected to “place.” I’m delighted with the visitations of bears, raccoons, opossums, deer, raptors and songbirds, snakes, and so much more (except when they partake of the food in the garden). I feel so very much alive and connected to Spirit here.
Hood goes even further with his observations. Throughout the pamphlet he juxtaposes the natural environment with the meeting for worship. As we now know, the natural world is physically connected through the mycelium, defined according to Merriam-Webster as “the mass of interwoven filamentous hyphae that forms especially the vegetative portion of the thallus of a fungus and is often submerged in another body (as of soil or organic matter or the tissues of a host).” All of life in the natural world depends on this interconnectedness of the mycelium since it provides what is needed for the vegetation to survive and the vegetation is needed for all the rest of the species to survive.
Hood says, “Quaker meeting for worship is a unique spiritual ecosystem.” As the mycelium in the forest is held together by filaments, the Quaker meeting is held together by Spirit. Hood describes the way of settling into waiting worship, recognizing all the participants and opening up to the Spirit, which is available to all.
He goes on to say, “When gathered—the term we use to mean a meeting in which participants’ hearts and minds align along the leadings of the Spirit—this ecosystem thrums with intricate connection. The words that become audible echo those that remain unspoken; even the air in the room feels charged with extra light.”
Meeting for worship will never be the same for those reading this pamphlet. Maybe the reader will, like the author, allow their mind to travel in a forest as they settle, seeing the relationships of the living beings there and then turn inwardly to opening to Spirit. Will this enrich your worship experience? It certainly did mine.
Ruah Swennerfelt is a member of Burlington (Vt.) Meeting and serves as co-clerk of the meeting’s Ministry and Counsel Committee. She is the author of Rising to the Challenge: The Transition Movement and People of Faith and is active in New England Yearly Meeting’s Earthcare Ministry Committee.